Clearances (was Outsourcing)

Subject: Clearances (was Outsourcing)
From: Martin Bosworth <martinhbosworth -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 2005 10:57:06 -0400

> That raises another point. During my last round of job-hunting, it seemed
> like about half of the positions out there were defense industry jobs that
> required applicants to already hold a Secret or higher clearance. How
> does a civilian who doesn't already have such a clearance receive one,
> outside of taking an entry-level military or intelligence position and
> working up? Or is this pretty much a closed system?
> - C.


In order to go up for your first clearance, your company must sponsor
you for it. That means their security officer send you a form (Usually
the EPSQ, or "Electronic Private Security Questionnaire") that you
have to fill out completely and return to them.

There're several stages of clearances and different forms you fill out
at each level. The EPSQ is generally for the "Confidential" clearance,
which is the lowest level. The "Confidential" clearance requires a NAC
(National Agency Check), where they run your records with law
enforcement agencies to find out if you have a criminal record and all
that fun stuff. A corollary to the NAC is the NACLC (National Agency
Check with Local Check), where they also check local law enforcement
agencies to see if there's anything the FBI or CIA might have missed.

The EPSQ form requires you to go back seven years in your professional
history, explaining every job in detail, why you might have left, what
your co-workers thought of you, etc. You also need multiple
personal/professional references going back seven years or more. Try
to use as many as you can, because they DO get called. Trust me...I
had my references notifying me whenever they got "the call" about me.

Once your form is submitted, it goes to the Defense Security Service
(DSS) agency or the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) agency. The
clearance process can take weeks or months, depending on if they want
to reinvestigate you. If there're red flags in your history, they
generally just reject you flat out. (This happened to me, and I never
knew why.) If there are no obvious red flags, but there are questions,
they issue you an "IS" (Interim Secret) classification while they
continue the investigation.

If you get your "Confidential" clearance, then you can be sponsored
for a "Secret" clearance, which takes a year to two years. The
investigation for this goes back ten years or more, and you get
personally interviewed at your home or other location by DSS employees
at least once.

If you should get a "Secret" clearance, I believe the next highest
level is "Top Secret". A friend of mine at Northrop Grumman has a TS
clearance with what is called a "Lifestyle Polygraph", wherein they
strap her to a polygraph machine every five years to find out if she's
sold secrets or not.

It's hard to say why some people get clearances and others do not. If
I had to guess, I got rejected because I had too many patches of
spotty employment with companies that no longer exist. On the other
hand, I know people who have TS clearances even after nervous
breakdowns. :)

Don't let it dissuade you, though. There're plenty of jobs in the
field that don't require people nosing about in your private life.


P.S. The EPSQ form is a marvel of obsolescent was created
to work with Windows 3.1, and boy, does it show. ;)

Martin H. Bosworth
Technical Writer, Telemedicine Directorate
Walter Reed Army Medical Center (
Writer/Editor, (


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